Words from October 20


October 20 is a big day for me; it is Christmas, in a way.


Each year I read through "The Daily Bible in Chronological Order," one day at a time. Since it’s arranged chronological order, it reads more like a grand story, from beginning to end. The big story of God and mankind.  The psalms and prophets are mingled in place with the historical accounts; Paul’s letters are placed where they belong among the record in Acts, and like that.


On October 20, after almost ten full months of daily readings, the story changes in a big way. Jesus Christ is born. So every year I can celebrate Christmas in October.


Last year I sent out a whole slew of text messages announcing Merry Christmas. As it turns out I confused a lot of people who received the message but didn't know who it came from. I got quite a few replies asking, "Who is this?" So this year I posted my Merry Christmas on Facebook and email. I don't have much of a presence on Twitter, yet, but I gave that a try as well.


Unfortunately the Christmas story is so familiar and I have read it so many times it is hard to read it again. My mind jumps ahead and forms the words before my eyes get to them. That’s one good reason to read the story in October instead of December; it sort of catches me by surprise.


I thought about Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist. When the angel told him that he would finally be a father after so many years, he said, “How can I be sure? My wife and I are very old." And because of that the angel took away his ability to speak. I wrote in the margin of my Bible: "Seems harsh; surely he was allowed one question. Moses argued with God in front of the burning hush and he didn't get into trouble." What did Zechariah do that was so bad?


And then the story shifts to Mary, mother of Jesus, who was confronted by an angel who said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." It says Mary was greatly troubled at his words. I wrote in the margin: "I can see why the presence of an angel might scare her, but his words should be affirming not troubling." Why was Mary so afraid?


I don't know why Zechariah got into trouble or why Mary was afraid; it was only words. But I know my words to God matter, as do his words to me. Sometime I get so comfortable praying I forget how important it is, what a privilege it is, how eternal it is. I forget the power of words.


I don't know why Zachariah got into so much trouble after asking only one question. We know from other stories in the Bible that God usually allowed a lot of questions. There must be more to this story than we’re told. Something must have been going on between Zachariah and God that we aren't privy to, but it must have been clear to Zachariah since he didn't fight back and doesn't appear to have resented what happened to him. in fact, once his son was born, and once Zachariah’s voice was restored, the first thing he did was praise God. He didn’t complain and didn’t ask why.


I think Zachariah got into trouble because of the condition of his heart rather than his words. I take from this story that my words are important to God, but not as important as my heart. I don't have to live in fear that I might pray the wrong thing or ask the wrong question. What I need to be concerned about is the condition of my heart and the status of my relationship with God.


What about Mary? Why was she so troubled by the angel's words? Maybe in the same way that I get nervous and start moving backwards when someone says, “You'd be really great at this.." I try to avoid being recruited for something new.


Mary didn't stay troubled. As the angel laid out the plan, Mary began to praise God; her words - the Song of Mary, the Magnificat – are some of the best in the entire Bible.


We don't have to be afraid of the words from God. Even if what he is asking us to do is troubling at first, We just have to relax and listen and let him speak to us. We can trust God when he speaks.


October 20 was a strong day for me. Let me be one of the first to say to you, Merry Christmas.



“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32